Posts Tagged ‘natural selection’

(excerpt from a non-rationalist’s journal)

December 25th: Today someone gave me a smart phone for Christmas. A delightful thing it is, and so full featured. I imagine it will take me quite some time to figure out all this thing does.

January 2nd: Still nursing my New Year’s hangover, still trying to figure out this phone. I was reading today about all the intricacies involved in how the touch screen works.

January 3rd: Went to the mobile app store online. Holy bajeezuz are there a lot of apps! There are things that will do everything short of the dishes on there!

January 8th: I got down into the internals on my new phone this morning. Was amazed to learn that the operating system alone in this thing takes over 250 characters of memory to store. This is unfathomable!

January 12th: I am utterly overwhelmed by my new phone. I have concluded that it is far too complex to have ever been designed by man! There is just far too much complexity in the totality of this thing to ever have come to exist as in it’s current configuration through individual effort. I can’t fully determine how it came to be, but it must have been aliens or super beings of some sort.

January 13th: I informed my friend Bob of my theory about my phone. He became incensed, called me incredulous, and started ranting on about research and development processes spanning hundreds of years and other such nonsense. I pointed out many details of the phone and it’s so-called ‘technology’ and asked him point blank how such things could all manage to come to be in just such a way as to be so well suited to a device like my phone. He had no significant answers. Ha!

January 18th: Bob came over today with a video. He thought it would break me of my designer theory about the phone. The video seemed to show people in Korea (or maybe it was China) assembling devices such as my phone. It was interesting, but I argued that even if it was legitimate, just because man could learn to construct such a thing in no way explains how it’s complexity originated! It only proves man can reproduce the design.

January 24th: Bob tried to be sneaky today and took me to some computer company today when we were supposed to just be having lunch. He had some systems analyst guy drone on for over an hour about development process and showing me articles on wikipedia about the history of something called ‘compilers’ and ‘object orientation’. He said some nonsense about things called ‘open source communities’ that he alleged made small additions and changes to something called ‘code libraries’ over large spans of time.
It made little sense to me but I had been reading in more detail about the screen in this thing and stumped them both when I asked them to explain how all the interactions of laminating and ‘material composites’ and matrix-wiring networks, internal clocking, plasma bubbles, LED arrays and all the rest could come to exist just as they are to produce a single pixel on a screen that responds to just the touch of a finger! They had no answer, of course!

February 3rd: Ugh, Bob was back again. He shows up with three young college kids and a stack of books and papers that would fill a small library.

He tells me that he paid the three undergrads to look up any and all information they could on the process and chain of technologies that led up to any facit of smart phone technologies that they could find. He claims that he still didn’t find it all but now I have twenty, 4′ high stacks of books and papers cluttering up my Foyer. Like he expects me to read that? As if!
I think he’s just trying to obfuscate the issue. I told him as much! And to get out of my house at once and take his refuse with him. He grabbed my smartphone from my hand and hurled it at me hitting me right in the eye before stomping out of the door leaving all of the stuff! I guess I’m going to have a lot more for the trash man this week…

February 8th: I was trying to avoid Bob but couldn’t help passing him today on the way to the market. I told him I tossed out all the stuff. He just looked at the bandage over my eye and said something about “hmmm, it suits you!” I have no idea what he meant and he walked away before I could ask him to explain himself.

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I used to worry that natural selection was being contradicted in modern civilized society.  We’re doing things like creating ‘super-bug’ diseases through over-use of antibiotics, meanwhile we seem to be coming up with ways to allow people with all sorts of maladies and genetic no-nos live and produce offspring. A human thing to do, but hardly a way to upgrade the gene pool!

I also worried that ideas were subject to the ‘noise’ factor, especially since the exploding popularity of the internet and talk radio. There is so much information out there and many of the sources are so highly questionable. (I would qualify this with ‘on the net’ but it seems with a couple hundred cable channels, even television is not a reliable source for ‘accurate’ information and journalism is more about ratings chasing than about integrity of information)

I realized last night, neither is true. Or at least neither is worth worrying about.

The Helix Epiphany

Sometimes it is funny how seemingly unrelated concepts can come together to give you a better picture of something else. Someone was talking the other day about a new theory on how DNA and RNA came into existence over hundreds of millions of years. Some scientists apparently now think that a pseudo natural selection process took place with certain ‘bubble’s or collections of chemicals that proved to be more stable than others eventually spawning primitive re-producing cells. But of course, the story started out mentioning the churning cauldrons of primative earth’s volcanically timultuous seas.

What I realized in regards to natural selection is you can’t look at just your own lifetime or those immediately before and after. Natural selection is a process of many many many generations. To assume it is going to be averted by a hundred years or so of technological civilization that still hasn’t sorted out it’s optimal ‘form(s)’ yet is short sighted.

Internet and Computers as a Collective Memory Aid

And the noise on the internet and talk radio? That is not much unlike that early timultuous sea. One of the other unrelated ideas that came to me was when I was thinking about how useful it has been for me to start blogging. I’ve found since I started it, that it helps me keep my ideas on track and gives me something to refer back to, review and revise as my ideas take form – sort of an external surrogate for my own brain. I can write down and retain small details of events or thoughts that I otherwise might not remember in full clarity as my mind moves on to other things. This is probably not much different than has been the case with people writing journals and diaries for thousands of years…. but!

Now there’s this internet thing, this tumultuous cauldron of untested ideas where everyone is now blogging their thoughts and ideas.  The internet is having a ‘shared’ collective memory and little by little the more radical among them move to the top or the edges to be tested against the extremes of the rest of the bubbling soup. Some succeed and some fail, some gain prominence some are dismissed as idiocy. And the process of technology allows all these noisy intermingling ideas to do this more rapidly than ever in human history.

So then you might worry well ‘what if the bad ideas’ win out somehow? Or worse, what if a ‘bad’ idea proves to be the most ‘fittest’ to survive in such conditions. Really? Then I look at current events. I see socialist ideas failing in Greece and Spain. I see socialist ideas failing in America. I remember back to socialist ideas failing in Russia.  I see comments about Cuba and Venezuala having problems. I see people fighting for more freedoms in China and Libya and Iran.

What gives me hope are the new conventions and arenas for the ideas that advance mankind. Sure, they can be prone to the same misuse and abdication as things in the past, but the sheer velocity of how new ideas can spread now and gain prominence is amazing. It’s like giving gun rights to early Americans. You build in a new expectation upon individual freedom that the anti-gun folks have been spending more than 100 years trying to demonize and destroy. How many people do you suppose would willingly give up their internet access after having it now for less than 15 years?

The key is to not focus upon such a narrow slot of time as an indicator of the dominant trait. It’s a form of anthropomorphism more specific to our own reference point of our own lifespan. Sure, I’d like to see robot shells that could instantly transport me to alpha centauri and back for an afternoon luncheon at the Andromeda Cafe’ – but that’s unrealistic. Change takes time and the process of that change is speeding up. But it’s still going to take time.

It’s a rough ride, but the natural selection is live and well and I welcome the noise! Bring it on!!! The cream rises to the top!

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Many people have tried (and ultimately ended up regretting it later) to corner me on my ‘beliefs’ – or at least those ‘beliefs’ that would most closely resemble what most consider to be a ‘belief system’.

“Do you believe in God?” (big ‘G’)
“Do you believe in life hereafter?”
“What is your religious affiliation?”

It is of course, not an easy subject to address due to the potential misunderstandings that will occur as I try to relate what I know to be extremely abstract concepts.

This has become an increasingly growing debate as of late due to the apparent need of my mother to broadcast her new found interest in the ‘church’. (My impression on the subject is that she is feeling guilty for never really having taken an interest in the church previously, perhaps getting ‘worried’ as she grows older that her ‘immortal soul’ may have trouble getting past the proverbial gates and also beginning to feel ashamed for who knows what reason that my brother and myself turned out to be rather secularist and pluralized – go figure!)

This is of course also an ongoing debate in society – we see it rear it’s head in the abortion issue, partisan political debate, animal “rights”, euthanasia and probably about 90% of the recent ACLU case load. Of course the subject of religion as it pertains to public schools has not been the least of these issues.

The most recent of the church-in-schools issues that seems to be rising to the surface appears to be the so-called ‘new’ intelligent design theory and the whole brew-ha-ha over whether or not it should be taught along side evolutionary theory in public schools. To me, even though I understand the alleged differences, it is just another euphemism for ‘creationism’ – i.e. a Judea-biblical view of creation. In short, the notion is that some organisms are seen to be so infinitely complex that one should therefore conclude that they had to have been ‘intelligently designed’. This waxes as euphemistic to me because a design by itself is little more than paper on a drawing board until someone actually ‘creates’ something from the design – the fact that something can be seen and in turn assumed to have been designed requires the intermediary action that someone or something else has to actually build the design. Or if not build ‘the’design (in the case of a life form you are observing), at least build ‘a’ design to spawn the one you eventually find yourself staring at under the microscope.

The Watchmaker argument

The theory is perhaps best displayed through a metaphor that often comes up – mainly, William Paley’s “Watchmaker” argument. The metaphor goes as follows:

. . . when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive. . . that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e.g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, or placed after any other manner or in any other order than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. . . . the inference we think is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker — that there must have existed, at some time and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction and designed its use.

As with most things, my view on this is a little different than most. When I see to people (or groups) involved in a heated discussion, I have learned one of the better things to do before taking a side is to look not only at both views but, and more specifically, to look for view points that both groups are missing or at least are not focusing on in the process of their argumentation. The concept of the watchmaker listed above also brings up thoughts of the metaphor often used to describe probability, mainly the Infinite Monkey Theorum:

It stands to reason that if an infinite number of monkeys are each left banging on one of an infinite number of typewriters with no specific time limit, sooner or later one of them will type out the entire works of Shakespeare.

For most of us, such a concept seems absurd, thus the need for the metaphor. When speaking of concepts such as probability within incredibly large samples, it can be difficult to fathom the abstract concepts necessary to gain a full understanding. When speaking of natural selection in a universe that is said to be tens of billions of years old on a planet that is about 4 1/2 billion years old, we and the duration of our lives are less significant than a fly spec on a dinosaur’s butt! How could we possibly fathom the process of evolution of life taking place over the majority of that span!

Nature’s a Mutha!
In addition to this unfathomability, there is something else that is often overlooked. Nature itself is not a vacuum – to invoke another metaphor, mother nature is a bitch!

[Darwin’s] evolutionary theory doesn’t simply involve the concepts of the “common ancestor” and subsequent changes through “descent and modification”, but it also includes the notion of ‘natural selection’ – the proverbial ‘survival of the fittest’. In short, it is not just simply a room full of monkeys typing away on a bunch of typewriters. There is also this very fickle bitch running around with a really big stick, and whenever any monkey is typing something that looks closer to Hamlet, she pairs him off with some other sweet little monkey who is also doing good on her key-banging to make more little monkeys. But if she sees some monkey typing something she doesn’t like, she clobbers him over the head to make room for other little monkeys!

Some proponents of the Intelligent design theory point specifically to what they refer to as infinitely complex‘ microorganisms as one of the greatest signs of proof of intelligent design. Basically saying that some of the extreme complexities in even some of the simplest of creatures therefore equates to the watch found in the field.
However, using the above reasoning in regards to both the age of the universe/earth and the bitch-with-the-stick in a room full of monkees, it would stand to reason that the organisms that would have been around the longest [on earth] and thereby would have had the most trial-and-error (and bang-on-the-head with the big mutha’s stick) would be the microorganisms. Therefore, extreme complexities in such creatures would not only be observable, but likely.

I saw a good reference to put this in perspective; if someone was dealt a royal flush in a game of cards – and they fully understood the improbability of getting such a hand straight out of the deck – they would likely not assume, therefore, that the hand couldn’t possibly exist. Or, since I really like to quote from Douglas Adams:

…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in—an interesting hole I find myself in—fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ — Douglas Adams, speech at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge U.K.

Let’s Flex those verses!

Most of those supporting ‘Intelligent design’ will of course claim it is a ‘new theory’ (it is not, it actually stems from similar notions pre-dating Darwin), that it is not creationism in a new package, etc. Specifically, most ID‘ists will point to the fact that they do not ascribe to the notion that the earth is only 6000 years old and they do deny that some level of ‘changing’ of organisms occurs on earth – a nice way to save face with the fact that observable facts since the Beagle voyage seem to give strength to some (if not most) of Darwin’s notions.

So, which part or parts of the bible are to be taken literally?

  • Many hasidic orders of judaism still follow precepts of grooming, clothing and behavior ascribed in various books of the old testament. If all of ‘christian’ society would do the same, men would similarly wear their hair with curls down the sides of their faces with beards (or no beards depending on which book(s) of the bible you read) and women would all still be wearing long gowns, staying at home, serving their husbands and only speaking with permission.
  • Many judeau church celebrations have been merged with pagan or non-christian holidays and even moved half-way around the calendar to increase the popularity of the church. (ever wonder what bunnies and eggs had to do with calgary? Or trees, wreaths and red/green with bethlehem?)
  • George Carlin managed to launch his career in part by out of pointing to the hypocrisies of church dogma – “how many guys are in hell still doing time on the meat rap?”

Over the years the ‘word of God’ (big ‘G’) has been used by Christians to support any number of questionable acts from war and genocide to the spread of hatred, ignorance and prejudice. They have brought us the crusades, the inquisition and many would even argue World War I, World War II and even the revolutionary war. (and no, we are not talking about Muslim fundamentalism here) It seems that when necessary, the [Christian] Bible (and any other religious texts for that matter) can be used to construct any number of poor choices and be used to justify any number of bad actions or results.

So it begs the question, just how ‘flexible’ is the interpretation of holy scripture? Is the bible a living document?

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